Special Political and Decolonization
Committee), United Nations, New York
October 9-10, 2007
A Country Should Be Born
By Gilonne d’Origny *
Today, the UN General Assembly’s Fourth Committee on Decolonization is
meeting to discuss the fate of the world’s last colonies.
Western Sahara is Africa’s last colony. Spain, as the
Administering Authority, member of the European Union, must reassert
its authority and put an end to occupation and one of the vilest and
grossest violations of human rights and humanitarian law today, namely,
Morocco’s occupation of Western Sahara and persecution of the Sahrawi
Do you remember?
In 1975, Morocco invaded Western Sahara in flagrant violation of the
International Court of Justice Opinion that denied Morocco’s
territorial claims and reasserted the Sahrawi fundamental right to
self-determination. Morocco still occupies Western Sahara
at great financial, human, and image costs in a crime for which the
authorities in charge could be prosecuted at the International Criminal
Do you remember?
The armed conflict lasted until 1991. Between 1982 and 1989,
Morocco, with Israeli, French, and American support built a wall
reinforced with razor wire and landmines across 1,800 km from the
southwestern point to the northeastern point of Western Sahara, with
Morocco to the West and to the East, the Polisario, the Sahrawi popular
front for liberation.
Occupiers and colonizers are, by definition, not welcome, and force
their presence. It is reported that the Moroccan Government, as a
matter of policy, tortures and “disappears” opposition to the
occupation. In the rare cases when they reappear, they bear the
scars of dreadful physical and mental torture. 151 Sahrawi
prisoners of war are still unaccounted for. The Polisario has
returned ALL Moroccan prisoners of war.
Perhaps Morocco should finally give human rights organizations free
access to the Occupied Territory.
After all, only fools don’t change their minds.
Do you remember?
Morocco changed its mind regarding the vote for
self-determination. From the 1991 cease-fire until the 2003 Baker
Plan, Morocco had believed it could inflate the census with Moroccans
whom the Identification Commission would certify as genuine
Sahrawi. This strategy failed and Morocco would still lose the
vote, so Morocco refused any solution that involved Sahrawi
independence. The most Morocco would agree to would be Sahrawi
autonomy under Moroccan rule.
However, nothing short of a vote for self-determination in which the
Sahrawi listed by the Identification Commission will satisfy the
process of self-determination. The Sahrawi are to choose between
several options of statehood, one, indeed, could be autonomy under
Moroccan administration. Why not? But independence must be
To this end, Spain must behave like a state where the rule of law and
fundamental human rights are respected. It must demand that
Morocco pull out of this land now legally under Spanish authority and
hold this referendum.
The self-righteous European Union must stop any commerce with Morocco
that takes place on the territory and in the waters of Western
Sahara. The fishing agreement, if anything, must be struck with
Spain in trust for the State that the legitimate Sahrawi eventually
choose to govern their people and protect their territory.
Why did European parliamentarians accept to strike this fishing
agreement with Morocco and not Spain? Oil companies such as
Shell, must also pull out or strike their agreements with Spain, not
Why should invasion, an illegal use of force, be rewarded by
legitimizing the criminal act?
Some argue Western Sahara should not be independent because the Sahrawi
lack the experience and the resources to be self-reliant.
Remember, this completely ignores the fundamental principle of
self-determination enshrined in the UN Charter and the basic rules of
democracy. It ignores the disgusting profile of colonialism and
Western Sahara has many natural resources, as the fishing agreement and
oil deals prove.
And even if Western Sahara were barren, suggesting lack of resources
should deny freedom and independence is, at best, absurd. As
Thomas Friedman explains in The World Is Flat, natural resources can be
a country’s curse. Morocco has no oil but does well by plundering
Western Sahara’s resources and with its barely contained export of
hashish to the European Union.
Remember Dubai, Switzerland, Taiwan, Singapore, South Korea, Hong Kong
– all with few natural resources but immensely resourceful.
Do you remember?
When Iraq invaded Kuwait, did anybody suggest autonomy to the Kuwaitis
under Iraqi rule? How about France or Poland, autonomy under Nazi
German rule? Bosnians recently chose independence.
Above all, self-determination is the birth pang of a country about to
be born. It is democracy. A first breath of fresh
air. A first taste of freedom. A whiff of hope. A
birth right. A right peaceful civil societies cherish.
Do you remember the most recent example set by East Timor? It
suffered a parallel tragic history and eventually saw an end to the
brutal Indonesian occupation.
East Timor was a Portuguese non-self-governing territory, like Western
Sahara is a Spanish non-self-governing territory. The indigenous
population, the Timorese, like the Sahrawi, were entitled to determine
the “self” of their territory.
Indonesia invaded in 1975 and occupied the territory with repressive
brutal force. Portugal did not budge. Indonesia struck
commercial deals on Timorese territory, most famously, the Timor Gap
Treaty with Australia, to exploit off-shore oil fields between Timor
and Australia. Portugal lost out on lucrative deals, just like
Spain is losing out on the fishing and oil deals on Sahrawi territory –
Spain does get from Morocco, however, illegal immigrants, illegal
drugs, and, reportedly, terrorists.
And a last word in response to Morocco’s claims that an independent
Western Sahara will become a breeding ground for terrorists: the
Sahrawi and the Polisario have never engaged in terrorist acts against
people. Never. There is no Sahrawi terrorist or
fundamentalist movement. So much cannot be said of Morocco.
Do you remember?
In 1999, thanks in part to this Fourth Committee, Indonesia and
Portugal finally held the vote for self-determination and the Timorese
chose independence for East Timor, becoming the first new sovereign
state of the 21st century. Would anybody today suggest that the
East Timorese people should not have had a right, like every other
human being, to be free from colonization and occupation?
It is about time Western Sahara, Africa’s last colony, be liberated and
This means that Moroccan occupation must end.
This means that the Sahrawi must vote in the long-awaited referendum
for self-determination, in which they will have a choice between
independence and autonomy or integration within Spain or Morocco.
This means that, immediately, Morocco must allow human rights
organizations to report on the situation in the Occupied zone.
This means that those who currently support Morocco, such as France,
the European Union, and Spain, should reconsider their alliances and
decisions. Human rights must prevail over greed.
Do you remember when your countries, the countries of some of the
people in this room, here today, were colonized? Were
occupied? Do you remember?
This is a body whose mission is to move people toward justice and
independence, even when that road is blocked.
From Namibia to Timor, we have seen what it takes to help a people move
from occupation, to freedom. We have heard, over and over, the
false arguments, the tortured logic, that says that people must remain
That logic is hollow. Those arguments are duplicitous. I
look around this room and see representatives of countries, many of
you, perhaps all of you, whose countries have walked that road to
freedom and escaped colonialism or occupation.
Are our memories so short? Does this road belong to just a
few? Or does it belong to all humans upon this Earth?
* Gilonne d’Origny has an LLM in public international law and has
written about international criminal law in Western Sahara. The
views in this piece are her own.